No kids or squids, but plenty of splatting.
INK is a puzzle-platformer with action elements and a really interesting hook: the stages start off invisible and platforms and walls must have ink thrown against them before they are revealed. Your character is a small white block reminiscent of Super Meat Boy and other titles in the genre, but you have multiple ways of splashing ink around each level in order to see your way forward. Double-jumping, dying, and crushing enemies are actions that send gobs of ink flying in all directions, while simply walking across platforms or sliding down walls creates a trail of ink underneath you. As with most puzzle-platformers, INK begins with simple tutorial stages that introduce you to the mechanics, but later stages after the halfway point of the game will test even the most skilled of players.
The visuals and controls are simple and lend themselves well to the gameplay. Early stages task you with simply jumping from platform to platform and climbing up walls to reach the exit door. Others see you stomping on enemy rectangles, dodging homing projectiles, and collecting keys to progress. The gradual ramp up in difficulty is very effective here, and the way new obstacles are introduced gives the player an opportunity to become familiar with them before harder platforming ensues. To add challenge and longevity to the 75 stages, there are 20 collectable coins that are hidden, and these can be easy to miss on a first-playthrough. Naturally, you need to expose the coins with ink before collecting them and then complete the stage as well. In addition, every 25th stage is a boss fight, and these nicely break up the platforming stages. You can also turn on a timer for each stage and attempt to beat pre-established best times. Finally, exclusive to the Switch version is a two-player co-op mode, so the game does pack quite a few interesting features.
There’s a roguelike element to INK that I found quite fascinating. The first time you enter a stage, you have little information about how to proceed or what path to take. You might see enemies or cannons, but how to reach or avoid them is a total mystery; that is, until you venture forth, splashing your ink around and likely dying in the process. Therein lies the connection to the roguelike genre: death is meaningful and even vital to success. Every time your little cube respawns, you will have painted more of that level’s landscape, and you will know more about where you can and cannot go. Your ink also cycles through the colours of the rainbow, so the blocks and walls of each stage will constantly be changing colour. In a game where you can expect to die anywhere from 10 to 50 times on a given stage, INK infuses each death with progress and change, which is fitting because this connection represents the way in which players become better at platformers through repetition. In many games, death can be frustrating and defeating, but here it is knowledge and opportunity.
At a glance, you may know what you’re in for with INK. The platforming is solid, and the music creates ambiance and at times reminds me of Super Metroid’s excellent soundtrack, even if it becomes a little repetitive after a while. It’s never too easy nor too hard, and its challenges are fair rather than cheap. When you finish a game and want more, it might be that it was too short, but in that case you usually don’t feel a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment. Upon completing INK, I felt as one does after enjoying a perfectly-cooked steak: satisfied and satiated. In this case, I do want more, but not because INK didn’t give me enough. Rather, it gave me exactly what I wanted; this time, with a splash of colour.